Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a deeply flawed film, built on misguided interpretations of both characters and the faith that the two of them would never, ever for any reason get together to exchange notes.
But the extended, R-rated Ultimate Edition fixes a few problems with the original edit while deepening the problems with Zack Snyder’s take on Batman.
The good news is that, outside of the script and direction, Ben Affleck makes a great Batman. The vigilante has been active for years, and a few hints here and there convey the weight of experience and loss on the character. Batman was, in this version of Gotham and Metropolis at least, the first superhero, and that makes a lot of sense. He’s the only one who knows how to fill that role.
If this is supposed to be a look at a Superman who is learning what it means to be Superman, we’re getting a hard, ugly look at a Batman who is all but retired after giving up any and all hope of being the good guy.
Batman kills everybody
This is a Bruce Wayne who is just as brooding and dark as his alter-ego. He sleeps with random women and chases painkillers with wine.
"20 years in Gotham, Alfred, we’ve seen what promises are worth," Wayne says. "How many good guys are left. How many stayed that way." This is a version of Batman who is completely done with the idea that he shouldn’t kill people or avoid guns. There are frequent moments in the movie where he does both, and the movie doesn’t seem to think this is a very bad thing at all.
Batman thinks Superman is an alien with unknown motivations who is here to perhaps enslave or destroy the human race. The audience knows he’s wrong about that; Superman and Clark Kent are trying to do the right thing, even if they do so while handsomely brooding around Metropolis.
On the other hand, Superman thinks that Batman is a lawless thug who kills people with impunity while sentencing others to death. The difference is that Superman is right. The extended edition even has added scenes where we see police officers taping pro-Batman comics to desks to celebrate this ability to hurt the people they can’t.
There's an expanded series of moments where Lex makes sure a branded criminal dies and ensures that Kent knows about it, but the brand has been around for longer than this conflict. Clark Kent investigates the death and speaks to the dead man’s girlfriend, who is cradling their baby. "He was a father, he was that too," the woman tells Kent, referring to the now-deceased prisoner. "They know the mark all over, the guards don’t care ... one man decides who lives, how is that justice?"
Batman knew he was sentencing that man to die, Luthor merely controlled the process so he would have better evidence to turn Superman against Batman.
There is no subtext. Batman sent him to prison to die, or at the very least become a target for violence and he dies. But Kent reads reports of the brands before this all happens. The series of pictures Luthor sends him is merely punctuation on a sentence Batman has been writing for the past month.
The woman with the baby mocks the idea that a story in the newspaper will do anything. "A man like that, words don’t stop him," she tells Superman. "Do you know what stops him? A fist."
It’s not like Luthor made up the idea that Batman sent prisoners in to die; Batman had done it many times at this point. Luthor had to create situations in which Superman looked guilty. To do the same for Batman he needed only to shine a light on what was already there.
There’s also the extended scene where Luthor visits his office to find the stolen Kryptonite; in this version of the movie you see the battered guards being wheeled out by paramedics and watch Batman attack them on the security monitors. Those poor dudes had a bum assignment, were probably only making a few bucks an hour, and got savaged by a guy in a bat suit. Now it’s open season on anyone accepting a paycheck from Luthor? That’s a wide net to cast.
"This is about the future of the world, it's my legacy," Wayne tells Alfred. The Wayne family, you see, were hunters before they were into railroads and business.
We’re explicitly shown a criminal with the branding die at the hands of other prisoners
Alfred knows the act of hunting Superman will likely prove fatal. "So falls the house of Wayne," Alfred says as Bruce walks away. We never see Batman do much of anything that's heroic in the whole movie outside the movie's introduction when he tries to limit the death caused by Superman. That's it. He's there to grab a kid and look tortured and then he all but loses himself in the quest for vengeance.
Superman may save people in the film, but Batman has gone completely to the dark side. He's consumed with Superman and not much else. It's a disappointing way to frame the world's greatest detective, and that's before he begins to kill everyone he comes into contact with. These deaths, I might add, are extra bloody and graphic in the R-rated cut.
Luthor's plan makes little sense in general, and the "Martha" scene remains desperately stupid in the new edit. But it's nice that Lois Lane is given a more active role in the story, and the extra moments do help the often baffling editing from the theatrical cut.
But these additions shine a very bright light on the fact that Batman isn't that interested in being a good guy, and Superman is right to try to shut him down.